The Centre imposed President’s Rule on Sunday in politically fragile Uttarakhand while citing a “constitutional breakdown”, a day before the state’s Congress-led government was slated to prove its majority in the assembly.
The decision sparked a political storm, with the rebellion-hit Congress calling it “murder of democracy” and pointing to a pattern after the party’s government in Arunachal Pradesh was toppled this year by what it termed “sheer abuse of power and money”.
On Saturday evening, Prime Minister Narendra Modi cut short his Assam poll tour for a Cabinet meeting that recommended President’s Rule after considering governor KK Paul’s reports on a sting operation against chief minister Harish Rawat and allegations that he indulged in horse-trading to save his government.
It wasn’t clear whether the sting video, dubbed fake by Rawat, was forensically examined.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley drove down to Rashtrapati Bhavan soon after the meeting to convey the rationale of the Cabinet decision to President Pranab Mukherjee, who signed the proclamation under Article 356 of the Constitution.
BJP leaders said they may try to form the government if they get a go-ahead from the party’s central parliamentary board, while the Congress announced that it will challenge the decision in the Supreme Court.
“Modiji don’t let your love of power overrule ppl’s mandate. @INCIndia is ready-fight elections, seek ppl’s mandate, don’t usurp their right,” tweeted Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi while taking a dig at the Prime Minister.
The Centre justified the decision, saying the state government was “unconstitutional” and “immoral” since it “lost” majority in the assembly on March 18.
Amid attacks by Congress leaders on the BJP, former union law minister Veerappa Moily questioned the President’s stand, asking whether he should be a “rubber stamp” or act “in the spirit of the Indian Constitution”. “He is bound by the Constitution of India. He is bound by the Supreme Court verdicts,” he said.
Constitutional experts could not recall any precedent of a government being shown the door on the eve of a floor test authorised by the governor.
The Rawat government plunged into a constitutional crisis this month when nine party MLAs rebelled against the chief minister and threatened to take power with support from the BJP.
Moily alluded to a 1994 Supreme Court verdict in the SR Bommai case involving a similar defection issue in Karnataka when the court fixed the assembly floor as the only platform for testing a government’s strength.
Former Lok Sabha secretary general PDT Acharya said the court must determine whether a sting operation can be a relevant factor in dismissing a government.
The Congress came to power in Uttarakhand in 2012. Vijay Bahuguna, who is leading the rebellion, was then the chief minister. He was replaced by Rawat two years ago over allegations that he mishandled relief and rebuilding operations following the devastating floods that hit the state in 2013.
The Congress had 36 MLAs in the 70-member House before nine of them rebelled.
Backing the President’s Rule, union finance minister Arun Jaitley said provisions of the Constitution were murdered every day in the state for the last nine days. Citing the state as a “textbook example” of breakdown of governance, he said, “Everything that can go wrong with constitutional functioning has happened in Uttarakhand.”
He also referred to the passage of the finance bill in the assembly, when the rebel Congress MLAs voted with the BJP.
“It has never happened in the history of India that a defeated bill was considered to be passed,” he said.
The governor’s initial decision to give Rawat 10 days to prove his majority after the controversial passage of the money bill on March 18 had come under attack from the BJP, particularly its general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, who is in charge of the party in the state.
Speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal has disqualified the rebel Congress legislators under the anti-defection law, bringing down the effective strength of the assembly to 61.
Congress leader Kapil Sibal announced that his party will go to the Supreme Court. “They did this in Arunachal Pradesh. (After) doing this Uttarakhand I have information that they will try it in Manipur,” he added.
His party colleague Ambika Soni, who looks after the Uttarakhand unit, said, “The real desire of the NDA is to bring down duly-elected governments of small states in an undemocratic and unconstitutional manner.”
Party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi called it “murder of democracy” while others said the government would have proved its majority in the House.
Rawat said the BJP was “thirsty for his blood” right from the day he assumed office and also criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“The Centre is targeting a small state. Where is the cooperative federalism of Prime Minister Modi? The BJP is trying to degrade the established institutions in the states,” he said.